Retail ponderings: Work the floor

Departments - Retail

Make the most of trade show season by planning ahead and making new friends.

June 16, 2014

Summer trade show season is almost here and that means it’s time to par-tay! Or is it? Yes, there are some who a) think attending trade shows is nothing but a signal to kick their feet up, have fun and drink till the sun comes up, or b) working a trade show is “easy.”

In reality, attending trade shows can be challenging — standing and walking all day with a smile on your face takes effort. And there certainly isn’t anything wrong with a little libation after a hard day’s work. Goodness knows I’ve closed the Big Bar at the Chicago and Columbus Hyatt a time or two (or more). Sometimes you get just as much business done (if not more) after the show as during the show.

Get the biggest bang for your buck

But, the last time I looked, whether you are attending a trade show or exhibiting at one, it isn’t cheap, and can be far from it. Remember the old saying, “Money doesn’t grow on trees.” Well, I know I don’t have money to burn and I suspect others don’t either. So how do you get the best bang for your buck at a trade show? Very simply: plan ahead.

After you’ve chosen to attend the right show for your business, the next thing you have to ask yourself is what you want to get out of the show. Is it attending a variety of educational sessions, purchasing product and/or plants, furthering relationships with exhibitors or colleagues, attending industry meetings or events, finding alternative vendors or new items, taking tours of local retailers or nurseries or some combination of all? Once you come to conclusions about your goals, strategize a plan including pre-show, during the show and post-show activities.

I time my arrival the day before a show opens so I can register and avoid the long lines of the first morning and to grab an exhibitor guide. I spend that evening highlighting exhibitors I want to see and/or educational sessions I want to attend.

Now you can laugh if you want, but it seems I may not be alone in my love of planning. We have a new national organization in AmericanHort and a rebranded show experience in Cultivate’14. As one of the largest trade shows in the country, they continue to be visionary by offering the “My Show Planner” on their website. It allows people to create a custom itinerary where they can map out sessions they want to attend, choose exhibitors to visit, view appointments they’ve made, browse social events and more.

Even this non-tech person is diggin’ this new tool. The show is expanding by 50,000 square feet with the new Retail Terrace, so it will be more important than ever that attendees make the most of their time, and this allows them to easily do their homework before arriving in Columbus. I’m confident it will allow me to be efficient and take in as much as possible.

Achieve trade show success

Let me share a few other tips I’ve learned over the years:

  • This is one time you want to talk to strangers – don’t be afraid to put your hand out and say hi.
  • Take good notes – you’ll need those to do proper follow-up.
  • Announce through social media which shows you’re attending and make plans to meet those Facebook friends or Twitter followers in person.
  • Walk the show with a colleague – you’ll meet people they know and vice-versa, meaning you can increase your connections two-fold.
  • Utilize breakfast, lunch, drinks and dinner time to network – don’t limit meetings to the show floor.
  • Pack the Advil and don’t let your ego keep you from utilizing it to be on your game.
  • Take lots of photos and post some to social media during and after the show.

Plan now to market yourself and your company before, during and after the show. If you don’t, no one else will!


Maria is president of Upshoot LLC and Director of Plant Development and Ornamental Program Manager for the HGTV HOME Plant Collection.